The last one standing

2011-06-09 00:00

SHE was born in 1994 into a chaotic family of fox terriers on Wicklow farm near Chegutu, bet­ween Bulawayo and Harare. She was a pretty dog with a quiet demeanour and she bonded particularly with the female human members of the family. Her name was Sofia, which perhaps well described her reserved elegance and allowed her more boisterous relatives like Benjamin and Casper centre stage. The dogs were typical of their breed and were all related, save for the odd male introduced on occasions to provide some new genetics for the bloodline.

In those days it was an idyllic existence for the dogs. They had free rein of the farm, plenty of exercise and farmyard excitement, food, luxurious shelter and plenty of love and attention. In return they provided a level of security, companionship and endless joy for Roy and Felicity and their children.

An uneasy calm pervaded the prosperous district. Like his granddad and father before him, Roy had developed his land into a model tobacco and cattle farm. He was named “Zimbabwe Cattleman of the Year”. Produce prices were good and the prospects were prosperous. The country had emerged from a long and futile war, and the citizens were looking forward to an improved future.

That all changed in 2000.The greed and corruption that polluted the Zimbabwean political landscape bubbled over into land invasions. It started with the odd drunken delegation appearing at their farm gate making incoherent demands. Over a two-year period, though, the pressures became more militant and lawless, and Robert Mugabe’s squatters occupied strategic positions on the farm. The dogs witnessed the continuous harassment of their human masters, the theft of equipment, arson and the mutilation of the livestock. They certainly voiced their displeasure at the unwelcome presence and, at times, supported this with fangs exposed. I like to think that their enduring love and devotion helped their human family members cope.

The ultimatum was presented towards the end of 2002. The family was given 24 hours to leave the farm. One day to move a lifetime’s assets and memories. Among the chaos, the six dogs were piled in the family twin cab and temporarily boarded with the SPCA in Chegutu. They were not used to the confinement and had to be separated as the disruption to the pack caused conflict between some of the dogs. This was a situation completely foreign to the gentle Sofia and sometime during the first night she escaped. For more than a week, the already traumatised family scoured the area. Reports of sightings bolstered their hopes, but none of these proved productive. Then on the ninth day she was found on the main road, more dead than alive, eyes sunken, her ribs protruding and the soles on her pads worn raw.

Roy and his family eventually found themselves in Harare where they tried to fit into suburbia, all the while keeping abreast of news of the rapid destruction of the farm. The beautiful thatched house that they had built was torched, the tractors and implements lay rusting and useless, and the once-fertile lands became overgrown with weeds. The faithful labour force (which, with dependants, numbered over 500 people) had been displaced from their homes and dispersed to who knows where.

The dog pack was struggling to adapt as well. Gone was the farmyard freedom with constant stimulation. It was replaced with restrictive walls and neighbours who complained about their boisterous behaviour. And gradually their numbers declined. Benjamin and two others succumbed to various ailments before the family finally lost all confidence in their beloved country and made the decision to migrate south in the late 2000s. So began Sofia’s final major move. The trip itself was traumatic for all concerned but they eventually found their ultimate destination in a leafy suburb in Pietermaritzburg.

Months passed. Time ran out for Casper. Then for Peanut.

Finally Sofia. She was 17 years of age when she eventually succumbed to the ravages of old age and some weeks ago, in my arms, in my clinic, she breathed her last.

It was the conclusion of a vast dynasty of foxies spanning three generations of Lilfords and the last living and breathing vestige of a rich life under the rural African sun.

Every life is a story and every story has to end.


• The author is a practising vet with a passion for his profession and a giggle in his heart.

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